Every year, Jimmy Kimmel sends his sidekick Guillermo to the NBA Finals Media Day to mess around with the players and ask ridiculous questions. I’ve always enjoyed watching it — I like to analyze which players treat him with respect, and which players don’t give him the time of day (e.g. LeBron James). Like every other morning, I woke up and checked Twitter today. To my surprise, I found pictures of Guillermo feeding maple syrup shots to Norman Powell. It may seem strange, but this was the moment it really dawned on me: The Raptors are in the NBA FINALS.
Of course, I celebrated (and shed more than a few tears) after Game 6 against Milwaukee. Still, I hadn’t thought about the big picture, and what making the finals entails. The media circus, the constant scrutiny, the hot takes and the narratives all fall on Toronto’s shoulders with Kawhi Leonard bearing the load. As a lifelong Raptor fan living in Toronto, I’ve never seen anything like this; it’s completely surreal.
From having unexpected (and unprecedented) conversations about the Raptors with co-workers, to coming home to find my neighbour watering his lawn in a “WE THE NORTH” shirt, I’m seeing basketball suddenly dominate the culture in ways I’ve only dreamed about. All eyes are on Toronto, the city’s eyes are on the Raptors, and the team’s eyes are on a championship. As someone who endured years of front office ineptitude, bailing stars and Primo Pasta commercials, this feels damn good.
Of course, now the Raptors will face off against the toughest playoff opponent yet. The Warriors’ dynasty has occupied the Finals for five straight years, and with good reason. Golden State employs the best shooter in NBA history and paired him with another supremely talented backcourt sniper. As well, Draymond Green is an all-around stud (come playoff time), and Kevin Durant is, you know… Kevin Durant.
To put it biblically, the Raptors will attempt to take down Goliath, much like David did with his slingshot. But, there’s one key difference: the Raptors won’t need a miracle. Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player in the world, and Kyle Lowry is resilient. Moreover, Golden State is missing Durant for the foreseeable future, who went down with a calf injury against the Rockets. This really, truly is the Raptors’ year. Will they falter under pressure, or will they rise to the occasion? Let’s find out, together.
Here are tonight’s details:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 9:00 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Golden State – Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Jordan Bell
Toronto – OG Anunoby (abdomen – questionable)
Golden State – Kevin Durant (calf – out), DeMarcus Cousins (quad – questionable)
Dominate the Glass
Across the past three playoff series, the Raptors have had some difficulty grabbing boards. Against the Warriors, this absolutely cannot happen. In the playoffs, Golden State ranked fourth in second-chance points. The Raptors will be signing their own death certificate if they allow the Warriors to grab numerous offensive boards, resulting in kick-outs to Steph and Klay. Toronto needs to take advantage of every Warriors’ missed shot, of which there are relatively few. Golden State shot a league-best 48.7 percent from the field in the playoffs, so the Raptors’ chances to grab rebounds on their own end of the floor will be limited.
However, on the other end of the floor, a weakness emerges: in these playoffs, the Warriors have been a middling defensive rebounding team. To capitalize on these offensive rebounding opportunities, Serge Ibaka, Siakam and Gasol should be physical under the basket after a shot is released. From there, the Raptors can look to run off-ball screens for Danny, Kyle and Kawhi who will benefit from kick-outs while the Warriors’ defense is scrambling.
The Warriors love to punish teams for their mistakes, leading the postseason in points off turnovers at 19.4 per game. Luckily, the Raptors have been adept at limiting turnovers in the playoffs so far — 11.8 per game, good for fourth-best in the league. However, this is the Finals. A bigger stage means more pressure, and more pressure means a higher risk of succumbing to the bright lights. Simply put, if the Raptors make careless errors, the Warriors will dominate this series.
Luckily, Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor (remember that?). He’s not only been here before, but he’s led his team to a championship, winning Finals MVP. If Toronto can trust any player on the planet to not make careless errors, it’s Kawhi. Additionally, the Raptors employ plenty of players with an abundance of playoff experience, which should help limit mistakes.
The Raptors’ defense has been downright tremendous this postseason, and the Warriors have never faced off against a defensive juggernaut like these Raptors in the Finals. Complete with intelligent personnel like Lowry, Leonard, Siakam and Gasol, the Raptors have the right guys to give the Warriors a run for their money.
When Curry and Draymond run pick-and-rolls, the Raptors can switch Lowry and Kawhi, or stay put. It’s going to take some experimenting to see what works best, but Kawhi has the clamps to stifle Curry’s explosive output, while Kyle has the low centre of gravity to give Draymond problems in the post. The Raptors have multiple versatile defenders who can guard multiple positions. On paper, this is the team to beat the Warriors — let’s hope they can execute their game plan in Game 1.